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    Chester Pierce’s Legacy: Pamela Collins, M.D., M.P.H., Carries the Torch for Global Mental Health Equity

    Apr 1 2024

    The APA Foundation is honored to recognize Pamela Collins, M.D., M.P.H., with the 2024 Chester M. Pierce, M.D., Human Rights Award for her global impact in expanding access and improving outcomes in mental health care. Dr. Collins is the Bloomberg Centennial Professor and Chair of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    Pamela Collins, M.D., M.P.H.
    Dr. Pamela Y. Collins has been a valued member of the APA community for decades.

    Chester M. Pierce, M.D., is universally recognized for his research, committed advocacy, and leadership in social and global psychiatry. Dr. Pierce received his medical training at Harvard Medical School. After training in psychiatry, he served as a Commander in the U.S. Navy and later became the first African American full professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard University. At Harvard, his broad lived experience, clinical and academic training, and insight led him to recognize the phenomenon and coin the term “microaggressions” in the early 1970s. Dr. Pierce spent over 20 years as a staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and was the founding national chairman of Black Psychiatrists of America. Dr. Pierce’s career continues to inspire today’s leaders in the field of medicine. In recognition of Dr. Pierce’s significant and lasting contributions, the APA Foundation renamed the APA Human Rights Award to the Chester M. Pierce, M.D., Human Rights Award in 2017.

    The APA Foundation spoke with Dr. Collins about her work at Johns Hopkins, her former mentor and colleague, Dr. Pierce, and other APA members that have inspired her to deepen her robust involvement in the global psychiatric community. “I recently wrote about Dr. Pierce’s Solmon Carter Fuller Award lecture at the 1986 APA Annual Meeting. What I found so compelling was his use of identity and social experience as a jumping off point for framing an enormously diverse set of scientific questions. Much of his research examined how people navigated extreme environments and stressors, whether generated by climate, as in Antarctica, sports, or military service. His research and service demonstrated how he used his lived experience of racism to inform his work, and how he continually integrated lessons from diverse areas of study to contribute to his theories around racism and social psychiatry. He very much valued the importance of global dialogue in psychiatry. Early in my global mental health career, I was privileged to be invited by Dr. Pierce to serve as the US delegate for the international meeting he and his colleagues hosted in 2002: Psychiatry of the African Diaspora,” said Dr. Collins.

    A majority of Dr. Collins’s own research has centered on the mental health and wellbeing of African American and African populations. One of her current projects works to expand access to mental health interventions for youth living with HIV in Kenya. “This project brings together the 3 strands of my work: HIV and mental health, adolescent wellbeing, and urban environments. I’m collaborating with colleagues at the University of Nairobi, and our goal is to improve young people’s access to the mental health care that they need, particularly as they are managing a chronic condition like HIV, that’s often accompanied by discrimination and other social and relational stressors,” she said. “We’re working in three Kenyan cities. Our team will test strategies for integrating a psychological intervention into routine HIV services. We hope to make it easier for a young person to receive mental health interventions and for the providers who care for them to deliver these interventions where youth receive their medical care.”

    Dr. Collins has been a valued member of the APA community for decades. She joined as a medical student, and in 1993, Dr. Collins was selected as an APA/SAMHSA/CMHS Minority Fellow. She has since served on the (former) APA Committee on Human Rights and the DSM Steering Committee. She has been a member of the APA Black Psychiatrists Caucus for over 20 years and a member of the APA Global Mental Health Caucus since its inception. She is the current Chair of the APA Council on International Psychiatry and Global Health. In 2019, Dr. Collins received the APA Foundation’s Jeanne Spurlock Minority Fellowship Achievement Award, an honor made meaningful to her by the relationship that she built with Dr. Spurlock while an APA/SAMHSA Fellow: “As a resident, I was assigned to the Council on International Psychiatry, and Dr. Spurlock was also on that Council. I admired her greatly. I asked her if she would give the plenary for a symposium on cultural psychiatry that I organized for the Columbia community (where I was in training) – and she did! That felt like a triumph!”

    Dr. Collins is an exemplary choice to receive the Chester Pierce Award. The Chester Pierce Award lecture will occur at the APA Annual Meeting in New York City on Sunday, May 5, 2024, 3:45 PM – 5:15 PM EDT, Javits Center, Rooms 1A19-1A20. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Collins on her achievements!